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Matt Pais

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In a male-driven community, Kucheria ensures women join the conversation.
The common expectation in the financial services industry is that advisors will claw themselves up from the bottom. Make cold calls, pursue prospects and develop a niche market. In fact, Priti Ajit Kucheria, LUTCF, CFP, did none of those things. And the 16-year MDRT member from Mumbai, India, qualified after only two months in the business. How did she do it? The answer is simple, and not.

Jumping in
For 15 years of married life, Kucheria was principally a homemaker. Possessing a degree in botany and zoology, she raised a daughter and a son and enjoyed her life at home. Yet when the previously limited insurance business in India — for almost 45 years, one state-owned company offered limited products —privatized in 2001, Kucheria’s husband asked if she wanted to take the exam.

She said no.

“There’s no way I’m going door to door selling insurance,” she said. Yet once she dove into the books, she found herself energized by the learning aspect, which she described “like going back to school,” and she envisioned what a difference she could make in people’s lives.

The day after taking the test for her license, her husband brought her into his accounting business to meet with a client who needed insurance. “For the next hour, I vomited out everything I had learned,” Kucheria said with a laugh. That was the beginning of a domino effect that has now lasted for more than a decade and a half: That first client bought policies for his entire family, and the referrals have sprouted over and over again ever since.

So why are people recommending Kucheria, who deals with health and life insurance, pensions and financial planning for doctors, lawyers, accountants, business owners, friends and family? To understand that requires recognizing her community.

Cultural challenges
Before insurance in India privatized, only about 1 percent of the population was insured. Sixteen years later, the numbers are still below 4 percent, Kucheria said. While from one perspective that might seem like a huge number of possible clients, it also reflects a widespread unawareness, a local feeling that anything you pay for should yield you something back in your lifetime, and a related preference to invest in land and gold.

On top of that, Kucheria noted the long-held belief in India and some other South Asian countries that women should do household chores and not work — they are generally not included in their own family’s financial discussions, let alone trusted to serve as financial advisors. These decisions, it is believed, are meant for fathers and husbands.

Though this has not happened to her because her reputation and referrals identify her as trustworthy (although don’t necessarily guarantee a sale), she knows other female advisors who often hear comments like, “Why don’t you bring your manager along?” Many clients don’t have confidence that women can do the job, though that is gradually changing, Kucheria said, as companies recognize that not only can women do it, but in many cases, they can do it better.

That was evident in one memorable case early in Kucheria’s career, when a prospect called in two other, senior, male company sales executives to compete for his business. Kucheria rose above the competition with a simple pitch that identified what the client was really asking for, as opposed to a product being pushed by the other companies without addressing the client’s need.

“That was a great sale for me, and it boosted my confidence in always doing what’s right for the client, as well as my capability in a predominantly male profession,” she said. “In India, the woman usually is the one who budgets the household expenses, learns how to save and knows how to squeeze out that little extra money for her children’s demands once in a while. It is encouraging to observe that people are now looking up to women for financial advice.”

"A sense of nobility takes over each time I meet a client."

That means receiving and then possessing information as well. If a male client insists that only he needs to be at a meeting because his wife does not make financial decisions, Kucheria emphasizes why her presence is important too.

“You want them to inherit everything, but wouldn’t it be a problem if they don’t even know about a bank account or a property or any other asset that you have?” she asks him.

Because of the many possible obstacles in her business, Kucheria extensively prepares for frequent objections she receives. If someone says they don’t need insurance because they already invest in gold, Kucheria responds, “I agree that gold is traditionally a popular investment, but all eggs should not be in one basket. Gold has produced returns that may not beat inflation in certain periods, and it is less liquid. Gold can’t cover your health. What if I could offer you something that will?”

Now there are 24 insurance companies in India, and Kucheria, working with her husband and son among eight staff members (five of whom are women), has seen a lot of change in how women, advisors and specifically female advisors are perceived. As always, she strives to establish emotional bonds with clients by feeling that their money should be cared for as if it were her own.

“A sense of nobility takes over each time I meet a client,” she said, adding that money has never been a motivating factor for her work.

“There’s no end to luxury; the important thing is about how happy you can be living without than living with.”

Priti Kucheria

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